November 3

This Day in History

General Interest

Nov 3, 1979:

Communists and Klansmen clash in Greensboro

Five members of the Communist Workers Party, participating in a "Death to the Klan" rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, are shot to death by a group of Klansmen and neo-Nazis. Seven others were wounded.

Members of the Communist Workers Party had organized the anti-Ku Klux Klan rally and march and were joined by a group of local African American mill workers. A caravan of cars carrying Klansmen and neo-Nazis arrived to disrupt the march, and videotape shows demonstrators initiating the violence by kicking and striking the Klan and Nazi vehicles. The Klansmen and Nazis then opened fire, shooting six demonstrators. The communists, who were carrying concealed weapons, then returned fire. When the gun battle ended, five demonstrators were dead or dying, and seven were wounded.

In 1980, six Klan and Nazi members were put on trial on murder and rioting charges. During the trial, evidence came to light indicating that the Greensboro police, and perhaps the federal government, were aware of the probability of violence at the rally but did little to prevent it. Edward Dawson, a paid informant for the Greensboro Police Department and former FBI informer in the Klan, had helped plan the massacre and had notified the Greensboro police of the details, while Bernard Butkovich, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agent undercover in the local branch of the American Nazi Party, had supplied some of the firearms used. When the scheduled time arrived for the Klansman and neo-Nazis to disrupt the march, the tactical squad from the Greensboro Police Department assigned to monitor the march was suspiciously absent.

The six defendants were acquitted on all charges on the grounds that they had fired on the demonstrators in self-defense. In 1984, a federal trial likewise ended in acquittals. In 1985, a North Carolina jury found two Greensboro police officers, five Klansmen and Nazis, and Edward Dawson liable for the "wrongful death" of one of the demonstrators who was killed and ordered them to pay nearly $400,000 in damages. The jury also ruled that there was no conspiracy between the Klan, local police, and the federal government to disrupt the rally or injure the protesters.

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